March 4, 2009

School budget would preserve exising program, teachers

The city’s Board of Education gave its unanimous approval Wednesday of a proposed $104 million spending plan that would maintain existing programs and personnel.
It isn’t clear, though, whether the money it’s counting on will prove available.
The proposed budget asks for $3.7 million in additional spending over this year’s tally in order to cover rising health care costs, special education increases and higher salaries.
But the state may not up its school aid to the city and municipal decision-makers are pushing to freeze property taxes this  year, which will make extra money for education hard to come by.
“We are in a tough position,” said Barbara Doyle, the school board chair.
Since the education panel can’t raise revenues on its own, she said, “we’re between a rock and hard place” in attempting to get the budget funded.
Tom O’Brien, a school board member who heads the finance committee, said he is optimistic that the budget won’t need to be pared before final approval by the city in May.
There is some federal stimulus money heading to Bristol, but officials are not yet sure how much of it can be used to pay for items that are in the budget.
It is also unclear what the state legislature plans to do. Gov. Jodi Rell called for maintaining the state’s education aid levels but not hiking them.
“We don’t know, really, what the revenues are,” O’Brien said.
One bright spot is that the schools are likely to end the fiscal year in June with a small surplus.
Steven DeVaux, the assistant superintendent for business, said the district will “comfortably avoid’ any shortfall this year because of its freeze on spending.
At least 75 people jammed the Board of Education meeting to plead for officials to keep funding the music program at current levels.
There is a contingency plan that calls for slashing the music budget by 18 percent, which would badly crimp the middle school music program.
But the budget approved Wednesday doesn’t touch the music program. It remains intact, unless the schools come up short on money, officials said. Even then, officials may opt to cut elsewhere.
Emily Lewis, a sophomore at Bristol Central High School, was one of many who pleaded for preservation of the music program.
Lewis said music has been “a staple of my school years” as she played three instruments and sang in five choirs.
“Life was never meant to be silent,” she said. “I hope that in Bristol public schools, it never will be.”
Scott Shuler, an arts consultant for the state Department of Education, said that the arts provide a crucial element in the education of many students.
He said Bristol’s music instructional time is beneath the state average now and would sink if cuts are made.
O’Brien said that if the schools are short of revenue, officials will talk seriously with employees about measures that might be possible to prevent layoffs or increases in class sizes. Some negotiations appear to have taken place already.
What you can do
There is a budget hearing on the school spending plan slated for 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 18 at the Board of Education where the city’s Board of Finance will review the request. It plays a crucial role in determining how much money the schools will get from city taxpayers.

Text of Emily Lewis' address to the school board:
My name is Emily Lewis and I'm a sophomore at Bristol Central High School. I'd like to first start by thanking The Board of Education for allowing me to speak at this meeting tonight. I feel very passionate about the music program and all those connected to it. I have been involved in this program for almost seven years and have had many wonderful opportunities for leadership, self-discovery and a greater appreciation of music. This has been a staple of my school years and I would hate to see future musicians denied this opportunity.

I can't imagine my life without the school music program. Music has given me the leadership skills and confidence that has brought me here, to talk on behalf of my fellow musicians, friends and students. I've been able to find myself and in the process have found a place where I'm never judged and always in good company. The students in the performing arts department, myself included, are in the tops of their classes and are looking for more out of their school experience than the average student. We don't watch the clock waiting for the bell to ring. We watch the clock waiting to go to band.

I was first introduced to Bristol's music program at an early age by attending my older sister's band and choir concerts. I knew I wanted to share the joy she got out of performing for others. Since joining the program I've played three different instruments and sang in five different choirs. During these years, I broke out of my musical shell and went from listening to Britney Spears and Back Street Boys to Broadway songs and classical pieces. I've had the chance to sing at Arlington Cemetery and play at Mystic Seaport. These are wonderful opportunities which opened my eyes to the world around me, musically and culturally. With music, I've found there is a world outside Bristol, Connecticut. 

When I first came to high school, I decided it was time for my clarinet and I to go our separate ways. I just didn't want to wear wool band uniforms and march around in a funny looking hat. By the end of the school year, I had changed my tune. All my friends did band and loved it. They talked about the great times they spent at football games, competing in the Southington Marching Band Show and marching at the Big E. I decided I could try it for a year and if I didn't like it, it was only a year. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I can't begin to describe how proud I feel after marching off the field with the BCHS marching band. To memorize three pieces of music, ten plus marching patterns and play and march at the same time is no easy feat. It felt good to accomplish something I never thought I could do.

In twenty years when I look back on my school experience it won't the the sports, the parties or the friends that will come to mind. It will be my experiences in the music program. I will be proud to tell my children and grandchildren that I was able to be part of a group of students who together made the most important thing in the world: Music. Life was never meant to be silent. I hope that in Bristol Public Schools it won't ever be.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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Anonymous said...

Wonder if Ward saw what Farmington is doing? They are forgoing raises to all the unions this year!

Hey Ward, how about working for the taxpayers instead of your union boy's!

Anonymous said...

We need to cut, cut, cut!

Jonathan said...

“Life was never meant to be silent”-Emily Lewis

What a wonderful quote from one of Bristol's students.

Anonymous said...

Yes Farmington is forgoing raises. But the Teachers Union sector over there is rejecting it. As a result, the City has the option to do some lay-offs. And I think rightfully so. If they can't give a little by forgoing a raise, then too bad. The sad part is that the more senior teachers could care less, because they probably won't get cut...the new ones will. So they hold their good ole Union stance while putting others in jeopardy of losing their jobs. This just shows me that the teachers there only care about themselves. Not their co-workers. Not the taxpayers. What makes you think they give a damn about the kids either? I hope their rejection backfires on them and teaches them a lesson for once. Enough is enough. Everyone needs to make some sacrafices, including them. The other school system unions agreed to the measures...i.e, janitors, cleaners and misc staff. Why can't the teachers as well?

Anonymous said...

Probably closer to 125.

Should tell you something!

Anonymous said...

Follow-up article from 4:31pm's comment.

The Farmington Teachers Union was the only one's that refused to freeze their raises. Now they may face layoffs. I hope Bristol Teachers are smart enough not to let this happen to them. It's a difficult position to be in. They'd rather try calling the City's bluff and risk losing their job, than just agree to a damn pay raise freeze? Ridiculous and irresponsible. They should be ashamed!

Anonymous said...

Plymouth teachers refused to freeze their pay.